Tanker Cell departure: how multiple KC-135 tankers launch in sequence and rejoin after take off.
Take a seat inside the cockpit of KC-135 Stratotanker number 4 in a 5-ship “Tanker Cell.”
You don’t happen to see five KC-135 tankers launching in sequence too often: when needed, the aerial refuelers (sometimes coming from different airbases) normally rejoin in flight and from fly in cell formation until reaching the “racetrack” for the rendezvous with the receivers.
However, especially during the Cold War, several Stratotankers might be requested to depart in sequence at very short notice to support the nuclear bombers of the Strategic Air Command: in that case they KC-135s as well as the B-52s would perform a MITO (Minimum Interval Take Off), something they still train for quite regularly nowadays.
This video was filmed back in 1991 at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan, and shows five Stratotankers departing in a so-called “Tanker Cell” with two R-Model tankers leading the cell, and all the rest A-Models trailing them.
According to Anthony Burleson, the user who posted the video to Youtube, “it was a rare procedure, however we had training requirements to maintain for cell takeoffs. There was a period when tanker spacing used to be 12 seconds, lol.”
“My early copilot training, during the last few years of SAC, used aircraft spacing of 12 seconds for the MITO. That was the standard spacing for the Minimum Interval Take Off for any combination of the KC-135 and the B-52.”
As you may imagine, things could become pretty tense in case of abort by one of the aircraft, especially the leader:
“[… ] an abort by any of the 5 ships would certainly create a gaggle to be dealt with at a moments notice. Being collectively briefed, if lead were to abort, #2 would assume the lead and so on. Safety is paramount within a training sortie; however, it was a great feeling when the cell would launch without a hitch,” Burleson explains in a comment.